Profiles

The Next Tycoon: Kevin Tan Goes From Handing out Flyers to Expanding Beyond Real Estate

“My father always tells us to be charitable...To always help out. And to conduct business with utmost integrity. No shortcuts.”
IMAGE Artu Nepomuceno
Comments

Kevin Tan likes EDM.

“I like that stuff,” he says, giving me a thin, almost sheepish smile. “I really do.”

“What, like Avicii? Zedd? The Chainsmokers?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Lots of people like EDM. But to imagine the straightlaced, very put-together, not-a-hair-out-of-place Tan bathed in candy-colored lights and absorbing the bass at an EDM show is a bit disconcerting. It would be like bumping into your boss at the Steve Aoki show at the Palace Pool Club, which wouldn’t be that far off, if you happened to work in the commercial division of Megaworld Corp. Tan heads that arm of one of the country’s largest property developers.

“Yeah I go to shows, but not naman all,” he says.

He might strike some people as the stereotypical career-oriented go-getter; the COO (child of owner) born and raised in a world of boardroom meetings and construction site visits. But his closest friends know he likes to take the tie off and enjoy a night out on the town. He can appreciate a fine glass of whiskey as much as a leisurely stroll in the mall. And yes, he goes to the occasional EDM concert in the city’s most happening clubs.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Some would argue that his rise up the ranks was predestined by virtue of his last name, but Tan insists his father treated his executives equally. If anything, Tan feels his father gave him a harder time than everyone else.

It’s little wonder then that his work life often melds so seamlessly with his personal life. A cursory look at Megaworld’s diverse portfolio reveals interests in residential and commercial real estate, liquor, gaming, and entertainment. In many ways, Megaworld’s identity as a brand is a reflection of Tan’s own tastes, choices and personality. “Our brand has evolved into what it is now because of the things that I personally like as well. It’s no secret that I love malling. When I was growing up, I liked to go out. Until now, we still do that regularly. I think a lot of the ideas that we’re doing today is a result of my personality.”

Many stories have been written about Tan, the eldest son of billionaire Andrew Tan, who Forbes Philippines magazine listed as the 10th richest man in the country last year. Good-natured, well-spoken, and a familiar presence in Manila’s social scene, the younger Tan has been exposed to the workings of the empire his father built since he was born. “As we grew up, we saw how the company grew,” he says. “In my early 20s, I was fortunate enough to be able to get a chance to be immersed not just in Megaworld but in real estate in general. It’s given me a better appreciation of the kind of business that we do.”

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

As firstborn, the immediate assumption is that he bears an inordinate amount of pressure attached to the business his father founded, a business that brought in revenues in excess of Php138 billion in 2015. That may be true, but Tan dispels any notion that his involvement in the family enterprise is anything but voluntary. While he knew early on that he might someday be called upon to join and help his father out, he wasn’t strong-armed into it, and it wasn’t like he was conceived as some kind of automatic heir, either.


ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

“Up until college, my thinking was that I would go out and work first on my own. I had plans at the time to go to New York and maybe work there for a while. Of course, eventually, one day, we’d join the company. But no, I didn’t feel much pressure. We were allowed to grow up normally.” He wasn’t deprived of the experiences of a typical kid or teenager just because his father happened to be a tycoon-in-the-making. “I went out,” he says. “I had fun.”

It was a suggestion from his father right after graduation that eased him into his current path. Do some selling, the elder Tan told his son, referring to the condominium units of key business unit Megaworld. “He knew that somehow that I would get hooked into it,” Tan says with a grin. “Maybe I’d like the commissions and the money I would be earning.”

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

It was around this time that Tan experienced that oft-repeated tale of him handing out condo flyers under the hot sun, just like countless other real estate sales agents. Success stories are often overstated, but in Tan’s case, the “sweat” part of his journey is all too literal.

When I was growing up, I liked to go out. Until now, we still do that regularly. I think a lot of the ideas that we’re doing today is a result of my personality.”

“After that, one thing kind of just led to another,” he says.

Some would argue that his rise up the ranks was predestined by virtue of his last name, but Tan insists his father treated his executives equally. If anything, Tan feels his father gave him a harder time than everyone else.

“I guess that was his way of testing me, because of course he wanted to teach me,” he says. “You have to earn your credibility through the years. He will never agree with me all the time but I think (he does) more now than before, definitely. There’s a lot more exchanges, and a lot more constructive exchanges between us in the last five years, I would say.”

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Of course, that might be because the elder Tan is relying on his son more and more these days. Besides being executive director of Alliance Global, the conglomerate’s holding company, Tan is also senior vice president and head Megaworld Lifestyle Malls, which basically means he handles the leasing, marketing and operations of the company’s slate of “lifestyle malls,” including Eastwood City, McKinley Hill, Burgos Circle at Forbestown Center and Uptown Place in Fort Bonifacio, Newport Mall at Resorts World Manila in Pasay, and Lucky Chinatown in Binondo, Manila. Tan also oversees the commercial aspect of the company’s expansion into township developments outside Metro Manila, which for now includes locations in Tagaytay, Laguna, Cavite, Pampanga, Iloilo, Davao, Cebu, Bacolod, and others.


ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

“We’ve proven through several projects in Metro Manila that the township concept is really what people now are looking for, especially young people,” he says. The integrated lifestyle mix that our company is able to provide through our township brings a great amount of value and convenience to a lot of people. If you live in a township, you don’t have to ride a car for work, you can just cross the street to get to your office and then walk to the lifestyle mall to shop or dine afterwards. And you can do all of these in a safe and secure town ship.

In recent years, Tan has slowly expanded his role in the company beyond the real-estate business. As a consultant for Emperador Distilleries, the liquor unit of Alliance Global that contributed Php43.6 billion or 31 percent to the company’s overall sales in 2015, he was involved in the acquisition of British company Whyte and Mackay in 2014 and Spanish sherry and brandy company Bodegas Fundador (makers of Fundador brandy) in 2015. As a result, Emperador is now the world’s largest brandy producer, in addition to being the country’s biggest liquor company.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

What I’ve learned from my father is to always be humble, and that when we work, it’s that we’re working not just for ourselves but for everybody in the company.

His involvement in the malls and alcohol businesses has opened up opportunities for Tan to create synergies between the two. He helped conceptualize the idea of signature stores featuring one liquor brand in three of the lifestyle malls: Emperador in Eastwood, Fundador in Venice Grand Canal in McKinley Hill, and Dalmore Store in Uptown Bonifacio. The first store featuring multiple brands is at Newport Mall in Resorts World Manila. “These stores are there purely for marketing,” he explains. “It’s not a big revenue generator. We still really rely on our retailers to help us. It’s more to showcase the product in a more focused manner; to educate the market so that they can appreciate the brands more.”

To hear Tan talk business, you’d be forgiven if you momentarily forget that he’s still three years shy of his 40th birthday. His words are measured but confident; his cadence soft but deliberate. When I ask if he’s concerned that US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies and increasingly nationalist agenda might adversely affect BPOs in the country—Megaworld is the “biggest landlord of BPOs right now”—Tan counters by saying that Trump is bent more on keeping jobs in manufacturing than the service sector. He ticks off a number of reasons why he believes these BPO companies would likely remain in the Philippines for the foreseeable future, including cost-savings in manpower (“The cost here is about a fifth or a third of the salary of one person in the US”) and the innate service culture of Filipinos (“We’re a little more patient, mapagpasensya”).

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW


“We have about 130 clients, and all of them are either consolidating or expanding outside Manila. We have pre-commitments for the next four to five years. So, no, we’re not worried.”

I also ask about the state of luxury in the Philippines, after reports that revenues of major local retailers took a hit last year. While Megaworld’s positioning is upscale, Tan says “The Megaworld Lifestyle Malls fit a younger demographic; the kind of people that live and work and visit in our townships. Were also very big in food and beverage, dining and nightlife, that’s in our DNA. That’s the kind of retail developments that we do.”

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Clearly, Tan’s relative youth in an industry populated by the old guard is working for him and his company. He talks about a book he’s reading now, 2 Billion Under 20: How Millennials Are Breaking Down Age, which he says an officemate gave him. He finds the dynamics of an entire generation fascinating, and says it’s useful research. While he’s not technically a millennial, he says he says the company tries to understand the needs and wants of the demographic, because they’re exactly who they’re trying to speak to.

“I just like to do my work. Even until now, my father allows us to do our thing: to travel, spend time with our family, buy the things that we like. I think that’s also the reason why we’re always very motivated."

But age isn’t just about the target market. At 64 years old, his father is one of the youngest in that Forbes list of richest Filipinos, but that hasn’t stopped the family from working on its family constitution, or a set of guidelines that includes plans for succession if and when the time comes. Tan says they are still refining many of its rules and policies. They expect it to be finished within the next couple of years.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

“Family is the centerpiece of everything we do,” he says. “It’s what defines us. What I’ve learned from my father is to always be humble, and that when we work, it’s that we’re working not just for ourselves but for everybody in the company. We have about 10,000 people that work with us directly. We believe in a legacy, but it’s a legacy that is not for us, but for them.

“My father always tells us to be charitable,” he adds. “To always help out. And to conduct business with utmost integrity. No shortcuts.”

Yet again, the question of pressure comes up: The idea that he carries the weight of expectations from so many different people on his shoulders. But Tan, who is not only a young executive and son, but also a husband, father and brother, seems genuinely unperturbed. If burdens or anxieties exist, they’re well hidden behind his relaxed, unhurried demeanor. I couldn’t help but wonder if, perhaps, the EDM helps.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

“I try not to think about it too much,” he says. “I just like to do my work. Even until now, my father allows us to do our thing: to travel, spend time with our family, buy the things that we like. I think that’s also the reason why we’re always very motivated. We Wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for the hard work and passion we have.”

Background art by Sasha Martinez; Shoot direction by Paul Villariba; Grooming by Muriel Vega Perez; Grooming Assistant Grace Salvador; Production Assistant Miguel Escobar. Shot on location at Uptown Mall, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City.

Comments
View More Articles About:
About The Author
Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
View Other Articles From PJ
Comments
Latest Feed
 
Share
Brands like Nike, Prada, Dior, Burberry, and Uniqlo are all part of the initial launch.
 
Share
Filipino tabletop games are one of the few fun things you can do offline.
 
Share
The author talks about what happened to Malorie, his opinion on the Netflix movie, and all those damn memes
 
Share
 
Share
For the French food festival, they will be serving up fine French cuisine on a special menu.
 
Share
Cellar 22 is a place where brothers, friends, and confidants hang out and relax.
 
Share
It’s always handy to have a skill ready for when you encounter car emergencies.
 
Share
Food trends come and go, but common sense should always be our guide when we eat.
 
Share
He may not have the endorsement from major parties, but Dr. Willie Ong's advantage is more unique: over 10 million online followers.
 
Share
Hui Lau Shan uses local mangoes in their sweet drinks and desserts.
 
Share
The ninth outing for the director stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and more
Load More Articles
Connect With Us